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How are COVID-19 case counts in hospital tabulated?

Dr. Bonnie Henry said patient counts include those in hospital due to the disease, those in hospital for unrelated issues and those with underlying conditions exacerbated by COVID-19
Royal Inland Hospital
Royal Inland Hospital is in downtown Kamloops, at Columbia Street and Third Avenue.

The data notes there were 349 people in hospital in B.C. as of Jan. 7 due to COVID-19.

But how many of those patients were admitted with COVID-19 illness and how many are in hospital for unrelated issues, but happened to test positive for the disease and may not have any symptoms?

According to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, the case counts are a mix of the above.

In answering a question from KTW, Henry said there are several ways COVID-19 hospitalizations are counted She said herself and other provincial health officers recently discussed the very issue of how to count such patients during a recent conference call with Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam.

“We are trying to understand the severity of illness with Omicron, so we're trying to tease apart people who are in hospital from COVID, people who are in hospital with COVID and people who are in hospital because COVID exacerbated one of their underlying conditions,” Henry said.

She said it is not an easy undertaking, short of examining each individual chart of every hospital patient in B.C.

Henry said there are several ways in which COVID-19 cases are measured to become the daily counts, noting officials are in the process of trying to streamline the process.

Right now, there are two types of measurements.

One measurement includes everybody in a hospital with a COVID-19 positive test, which Henry said will include a mixture of patients:

• those admitted for non-COVID issues, but who test positive during screening;

• those already in hospital for unrelated issues, but who get infected during an outbreak;

• those admitted to hospital due to COVID-19 illness.

“So, it is an overestimation of the burden that Omicron is causing,” Henry said, noting the daily counts are not 100 per cent accurate as the calculations rely on “people counting who’s in every single hospital.”

The second measurement includes looking at everybody who has tested positive, based on laboratory PCR testing and epidemiological testing, and determining how many of those people, during the course of their illness, require hospitalization.

“That is a measure of ‘How severe is the illness, on average?’” Henry said. “And that’s an important measure we want to know for Omicron compared to Delta, for example.”

The latter measurement, Henry said, requires linkage of lab and hospitalization lists and takes more time to compile that information.

“So, what we’re working on and what we’ve been presenting is a bit of a composite of both of those pieces of information, which are collected for two different reasons,” Henry said.

She noted officials are now assessing the data to determine what is the best way to understand the impact of Omicron on severity of illness and on hospitalizations.

“We’ll have more to say about that in the coming week and I know I’ve been sharing these discussions with my colleagues in Ontario and in Alberta because we’re all trying to struggle with some of those measures,” Henry said.

How much room is available?

According to Health Minister Adrian Dix, as of Jan, 7, there are 9229 base beds, 2353 surge beds, 510 critical-care base beds and 218 surge critical-care beds in B.C. hospitals.

Surge beds are additional beds made available in a crisis.

Of the 9,229 base beds, 8,778 are occupied by patients, for a 95.1 per cent capacity rate, which Dix said is expected, noting the capacity rate was at 103.5 per cent in the months before the pandemic was declared in March 2020.

Of the 2,353 surge base beds, 593 are occupied (25 per cent).

Of the 510 critical-care beds, 454 are occupied (89 per cent).

Of the 218 surge critical-care beds, 23 are occupied (10.6 per cent).

While all non-urgent surgeries were put on hold as of Jan. 4 due to an expected increase in Omicron patients, there were also surgeries postponed beforehand in a bid to control/limit hospital capacity.

Between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1, 38 surgeries were postponed, including 27 in Interior Health, five in Vancouver Coastal Health, four in Northern Health and two in Fraser Health.